Pulpit Freedom Sunday: For When Special Exemptions Aren’t Special Enough

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Another Christian organization is howling at the moon because their special tax exemption, which non-religious groups don’t get, isn’t special enough. The right wing Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) organization is urging pastors into the pulpit to preach politics instead of God. Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an effort to force the IRS to take the pastors to court for breaking the law so they can sue and argue the prohibition against taking a perk and making political endorsements too is a violation of the First Amendment.

“We’re hoping the IRS will respond by doing what they have threatened,” Erik Stanley, ADF’s Sr. Legal Counsel said. “We have to wait for it to be applied to a particular church or pastor so that we can challenge it [the Johnson Act] in court. We don’t think it’s going to take long for a judge to strike this down as unconstitutional.”

But, some aren’t so sure.

Tax the ChurchConstitutionality might be a practical moot point anyway. The IRS rarely enforces the law now and when it does, they write warning letters rather than prosecute. “The IRS will send out notices from time to time and say you crossed the line,” Jim Garlow, Sr. Pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego said. “But when it’s time to go to court, they close the case.” Religious persecution is a hard sell when the worst thing that happens is a not-so-strongly worded letter telling you to follow the law. ADF may say the law is “blatantly unconstitutional”, but it is still the law.

In fact, the entire idea the IRS is somehow depriving pastors of free speech is laughable. Surely, the opposite is true. Under the First Amendment, preachers can say anything they want. They can lead demonstrations. They can picket abortion clinics. They can wave God Hates Fags signs at military funerals. They can pray in any location they desire, without restriction. The entire point of the First Amendment is to allow even repugnant speech a place in the public square and terrorizing families of dead troops is about as repugnant as you can get – yet, Westboro Baptist doesn’t chip in a dime to maintain a country where they can act like ass hats. What clerics aren’t allowed to do is use their First Amendment right to freedom of religion and speech as an unequal fig leaf to avoid paying taxes.

The solution is simple. Start paying taxes like everyone else and every other organization in the country. The Johnson Act says religious speech is untaxed, it says nothing about political speech – or it getting the same treatment. Churches already “double-dip” by accepting charitable contributions to fund untaxed, religious activities and commercial enterprises. That’s a sweet deal, especially considering the huge benefit of getting the dough, saying what you want, and constantly pushing for even more unequal treatment under the law. Exxon should be so lucky.

Christians, even while making up 77% of the population, constantly complain they are victims of persecution. If they are victims, sign me up. I pay a significantly higher tax rate than Mitt Romney (before and after charitable contributions) and I could use the write off. Even though I’m a member of the 53%, I feel victimized that I can’t throw some money at the Mormon church or the Archdiocese of the Cayman Islands and reduce my tax burden by half.

And, the 41% “victims” have it even worse. When they go to church, the church wants their money to pay for the privilege of being told how to vote.

That’s like having your cake and eating it too while telling people they should buy the cake from your untaxed bakery with a 10% tithe they can’t afford.

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